Breaking down the Bucs’ 2021 schedule

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The NFL mercifully appeased the antsiness of its fan base Wednesday night, formally releasing its entire 2021 regular-season schedule. Since then, we’ve broken down the Bucs’ slate into several digestible morsels.

Here are a few facts, assessments and perspectives on the 46th season in franchise history.

Still the beast of the East?

Having faced every AFC West team in 2020, the Bucs get the AFC East this season in the rotation of non-conference foes, which could bode well for Tom Brady.

In his 20 seasons in New England, Brady amassed an 85-23 record against East opposition (including a playoff split against the Jets). His greatest success came against the Bills, whom he topped 32 times in 35 meetings.

Most formidable stretch

Not only must Brady — and Rob Gronkowski, for that matter — cope with the hype surrounding their Oct. 3 return to New England, they may be coping with jet lag as well. Preceding that Sunday night game in Foxboro is a West Coast date with the Rams on Sept. 26. The game following the New England trip, an Oct. 10 home date against the Dolphins, hardly represents a breather.

“Are they setting Tom Brady up to lose? Do the schedule-makers want the worst Tom Brady we can have?” SiriusXM analyst (and former NFL specialist) Pat McAfee said of those consecutive multi-hour flights.

“What’s this all about? Everybody assumed that the NFL was anti-Tom, but they always assumed that’s anti-Tom and the Patriots. Now, it is very clear that the schedule-makers have an agenda, and that agenda is to get (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick at his absolute best and Tom Brady at his absolute worst.”

Most favorable stretch

For the second consecutive year, the regular season’s final stretch shapes up as very navigable. A Jan. 2 away game against the Jets (2-14 in 2020) is sandwiched between a home-and-home set with the Panthers (5-11). The immediate concern: the New Jersey weather in Week 17. And speaking of frigid weather ...

Out of the cold (mostly)

Meteorologically, the Jets contest on Jan. 2 represents the greatest hazard on the schedule. Otherwise, the Bucs appear to have caught a break. Aside from the Jets game, Tampa Bay has no outdoor contest north of the Mason-Dixon line after a Thursday night trip to Philadelphia on Oct. 14.

Disclaimer: the Dec. 26 trip to Carolina could be chilly.

As if another story line was needed

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi noted Brady’s return to New England could include some history within the hype. He enters the season 1,154 yards shy of Drew Brees’ NFL all-time passing yardage record (80,358) and can eclipse it in Foxborough if he matches his per-game average (289.6) of last season.

Plenty of prep time

An added perk of the Thursday night opener for the Bucs? Extended preparation for their first two games.

While a bulk of the preseason will be devoted to Dallas, the Bucs also get three extra days to prepare for their Week Two foe, the Falcons at home (Sept. 19). The result could be the franchise’s first 2-0 start since 2018, when Jameis Winston was serving a three-game NFL suspension and “FitzMagic” (aka Ryan Fitzpatrick) overtook Tampa Bay.

A ‘biscuit’ for openers?

Bucs third-year coach Bruce Arians can snap a half-decade skid Sept. 9 at home against the Cowboys. Arians has lost his last four season openers as an NFL head coach, including his first two season debuts with the Bucs. His last opening-day triumph? A 31-19 victory against the Saints in 2015, when he still was with Arizona.

Arians is 1-1 all-time against Dallas as a head coach.

Odds and ends

In case you forgot, Tampa Bay enters that Sept. 9 opener against the Cowboys on a franchise-record eight-game win streak (including playoffs). ... The Bucs are 5-3 all-time in games played on Sept. 9. ... Brady is 5-1 in season openers as a reigning Super Bowl champion. In those six games, he has completed 64.6 percent of his passes (144-for-223) for 1,831 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. ... Brady is 14-5 in regular-season finales; the Bucs face the Panthers at home in the 2021 finale on Jan. 9.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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